Sports photographer Fernando Fath champions equality for women in his powerful work shooting athletes and sports teams worldwide
Photography by Fernando Fath
Fernando Fath is a German sports photographer who creates beautiful work that captures a moment in time. He’s also passionate about conveying stories, and uses the power of his images to connect with the viewer. From changing rooms to sports fields and ski slopes alike, Fernando uses his photography to gain a deeper insight into the motivation and struggles of athletes and sports teams of female athletes in particular. Fernando talks to Glorious about his work behind the lens and the inspiration behind many of his projects.
Glorious: When did you discover that you wanted to pursue a career in photography, and how did it begin?
Fernando Fath: For me it has always been about capturing things, but not in a materialistic way. It was more about moments and emotions. In my youth I noticed that I could do this best visually, so I took up photography. This gave me a very deep form of freedom, and it quickly became clear to me that I wanted to pursue a career behind the lens. After leaving school, I spent a few years training as a photographer. After successfully completing my diploma in communication design with a focus on photography, I began working as a freelancer.
Glorious: How did you come across the German women’s rugby team and what made you want to photograph them?
Fernando Fath: I met the national rugby team players when I assisted another photographer. I used the opportunity to build contacts, and when I began planning my portrait project, ‘Leidenschaft’ (passion), I asked them if I could photograph the players for the series. During the planning stage of this project, I realised that they had some really interesting stories to tell. Rugby is relatively unknown in Germany, and therefore considered as an amateur sport. Also, money is a huge problem. As in many other sports, there is a gap between male and female players when it comes to financial support, visibility and treatment. Thus it is very difficult for players to travel to away games or even meet for a training camp.
Glorious: For how long did you shoot them?
Fernando Fath: It took approximately one year. I accompanied them during training and travelled with them to three games. I would have loved to continue, but unfortunately, it has not been possible to play any games for the past two years [due to COVID restrictions].
Glorious: You often feature sports in your work, specifically more female sports teams and athletes – why is that?
Fernando Fath: When I set out as a photographer, I tried different subjects to find out which area of photography I wanted to excel in. I struggled for a long time, as it was a big decision to make. Over time, I realised that sport came to mind over and over again, as it was my main interest. So I decided to focus on sports and started to develop a portfolio.
When it comes to female sports, I want to draw attention to issues, perhaps encourage change through my work. I decided to focus on women in sport in 2018-2019, as it was obvious that this was a topic that needed to be addressed. It was at the time of the #MeToo debate and the huge scandal about the former American gymnastics doctor and serial sex offender Larry Nassar. Moreover, the players of the American national team used the women’s football world championship in France 2019 to draw attention to unjust pay in soccer in America. For me, it wasn’t about the debates or scandals, I simply wanted to gain a deeper insight into the subjects and try to figure out which stories I could tell and how best to do it. That is when I began searching for topics relating to women’s sport.
Glorious: How do you shoot the fast-paced active images?
Fernando Fath: That’s a technical question and it depends on the location. In the studio, the quality of the flash is very important. I need a fast flash to freeze movements, which gives me the creative freedom to concentrate fully on the athletes, their movements and the image statement. When I’m outside, it depends on the weather conditions and the task. The right shutter speed is necessary, and sometimes it’s a matter of autofocus, mostly in a real competition. When I shoot a specific image with a single athlete, it is largely about the right position and good planning.
Glorious: We love your black and white images: do you think photographs shot in monochrome have more drama and action compared to colour? Is this your intention?
Fernando Fath: The most important aspect about black and white is that it helps me to create clarity. Those pictures are more condensed and, in some way, black and white makes the picture timeless and reduces information. That can help me work out the image statement. I wouldn’t say that a black and white picture always has more drama and action, maybe sometimes, but initially that is not my intention.
Glorious: Are your photos very well prepared and directed, or do you enjoy the spontaneity of those ‘in the moment’ shots?
Fernando Fath: That depends on what I’m shooting. When I accompany a team, I rarely plan anything and I just enjoy the spontaneity. I really like taking photos in this way and sometimes I’m completely ‘in the moment’ and forget everything else. When I photograph athletes on location, I plan a great deal. The best scenario is when I know the location and when the sun is at the right point. I think a lot about different motifs and how I want to tell the story. I also do some research on the athlete in question. The same applies to shoots in a studio, where it is even more important to plan the background colour, different poses or lighting, so I can then focus solely on the sportsperson.
Glorious: Do you work on your own or with a team?
Fernando Fath: I’m always in contact with other photographers. I talk to them regularly when it comes to working out concepts or developing the right lighting. However, I do the photographic part by myself. I think there is a part of my photography process where I have to be alone.
Glorious: Do you prioritise the visuals/aesthetic or the narrative in your work?
Fernando Fath: It is always about the story or a specific image statement first. It’s not easy to say something with every picture. But I try to bear that in mind every time I look through the lens. When it comes to aesthetics, of course it is important to have your own visual language, and I’m working hard on developing this. But for me the aesthetic aspect of my pictures is also about clarity. Sometimes it feels like I’m overwhelmed by a strong sensory overload, so I try to simplify my photography. Most important is to create images that capture moments, communicate feelings and tell stories that form a connection with the viewer.
Glorious: What is your most ‘Glorious image’ (a photo that elevates women’s sport through the lens of art and culture?)
Fernando Fath: One of my most ‘Glorious’ photos is one that shows a player from the national rugby team during training. The team took a bus from Germany to England and after a short lunch break, the players trained until late in the evening. It was cold and rainy, but the players were simply unstoppable.
Glorious: Your project ‘Leidenschaft’ photographs athletes immediately after crossing the line or after a match has finished. How long did it take to get this vast collection of work together?
Fernando Fath: From the idea to the finished exhibition, I worked on this project for about a year. It took a while to develop the concept and find athletes willing to participate. I photographed 103 athletes from ten different sports on 13 different occasions. The finished work includes 52 different athletes.
Glorious: You’ve worked with a lot of amazing women in sport; do you have any female sporting heroes?
Fernando Fath: For sure! An absolute female sporting hero is Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka. I find it remarkable how she and Simone Biles talk about their mental health. Ada Hegerberg is a great footballer and also does a lot for women’s sport, as do some of the other female athletes that I had the opportunity to photograph. I am always inspired by the approach of these athletes, what they are willing to do in order to achieve their goals.
Glorious: Besides your photography, do you take part in any sports?
Fernando Fath: I can be enthusiastic about almost any sport. I’m quite an athletic person and I sometimes take part in sports in my spare time, but not on a regular basis, and I don’t belong to any sport clubs.
Glorious: Can you tell Glorious what you’re working on next and what we can expect from your future projects?
Fernando Fath: I haven’t finished planning so I can’t tell you exactly what is coming next. But I hope to discover interesting athletes and will be able to tell further remarkable stories, perhaps with even more impact. I also hope that I can be on the road again next year.
Glorious: Where can we find you?